October 5, 2014



MULANEY:  Sunday 9:30PM on FOX – Change the Channel

MULANEY arrives with a fair amount of goodwill.  It’s a multicamera sitcom modeled after Seinfeld, and produced by Lorne Michaels.  Its creator/star, John Mulaney, is one of the relatively few SNL writers to have achieved some measure of fame for himself, mostly thanks to his creation of Bill Hader’s signature character Stefon, and as an actor, Mulaney is backed up by a cast that includes fellow SNL veteran Nasim Pedrad, and old pros Martin Short and Elliott Gould.  FOX has demonstrated its faith by giving Mulaney the closest thing it has to a marquee comedy perch, following the aging but still powerful (especially with young males) Family Guy on Sunday nights.

Despite all that, Mulaney‘s pilot is just terrible.  Unlike Seinfeld‘s observational quirkiness, it’s built almost entirely out of fake, obnoxious, over-the-top schtick that isn’t smart or funny.  Mulaney himself isn’t much of an actor, but neither was Jerry Seinfeld, and that’s the least of his show’s problems.  Like Seinfeld, Mulaney uses his own name to play his character, an aspiring stand-up who makes ends meet by working as a writer for egotistical/endlessly insecure comic legend and TV game-show host Lou Cannon (Short).  Mulaney’s “Elaine” is his roommate and old friend Jane (Pedrad), and his pals are the requisite bearded, heavy-set lunk (Andre, played by Zack Pearlman) and African-American (Motif, played by Seaton Smith).  The part of “wacky neighbor” is filled by the swishy–in this context, that really is the accurate word–gay Oscar (Gould).

After 21 minutes watching these people, there’s not one you want to see again.  It’s not that they’re self-centered and mean-spirited to each other, which by now is almost required for a comedy seeking a coolness factor (and which, as You’re the Worst recently demonstrated, allows for plenty of hilarity), but that they’re uninteresting morons.  The pilot, written by Mulaney and directed by Andy Ackerman, turns on Jane bonding with Lou Cannon by pretending to think he’s funny by way of a fake laugh, which makes Lou bond with her instantly and turns Mulaney jealous.  Jane is right–Lou isn’t funny–but neither is anyone else, and that includes Mulaney in the bits from his stand-up routine that are scattered throughout the show.  While the sweetened studio audience howls with laughter, Mulaney and Ackerman allow everyone to perform as though projecting to deaf people several blocks away–and Short and Gould, given the license to ham it up, provide a year’s worth of breakfast meat in a single half-hour.

Mulaney is woeful, astonishingly managing to be as bad as last fall’s FOX multicamera sitcom Dads.  Unlike Dads, though, Mulaney will have a very strong lead-in, thanks to Family Guy, and considering the way the FOX schedule is going so far, one can easily imagine it retaining enough of that audience (nothing else on the networks has a 9:30PM start on Sundays) to stick around.  There’s certainly plenty of talent involved with Mulaney, and maybe it can find its comedy.  (Seinfeld was famously reworked after its own pilot, which lacked the Elaine character among other things, but its promise and voice were clear even in its initial imperfect form.)   Broadcast TV could use a broad yet smart comedy with a distinctive sense of humor.  So far, though, Mulaney definitely isn’t it.


About the Author

Mitch Salem
MITCH SALEM has worked on the business side of the entertainment industry for 20 years, as a senior business affairs executive and attorney for such companies as NBC, ABC, USA, Syfy, Bravo, and BermanBraun Productions, and before that, at the NY law firm of Weil, Gotshal & Manges. During all that, he has more or less constantly been going to the movies and watching TV, and writing about both since the 1980s. His film reviews also currently appear on and In addition, he is co-writer of an episode of the television series "Felicity."